Jul
16
2018
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Fastly raises another $40 million before an IPO

Last round before the IPO. That’s how Fastly frames its new $40 million Series F round. It means that the company has raised $219 million over the past few years.

The funding round was led by Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners with participation from Sozo Ventures, Swisscom Ventures, and existing investors.

Fastly operates a content delivery network to speed up web requests. Let’s say you type nytimes.com in your browser. In the early days of the internet, your computer would send a request to one of The New York Times’ servers in a data center. The server would receive the request and send back the page to the reader.

But the web has grown immensely, and this kind of architecture is no longer sustainable. The New York Times use Fastly to cache its homepage, media and articles on Fastly’s servers. This way, when somebody types nytimes.com, Fastly already has the webpage on its servers and can send it directly. For some customers, it can represent as much as 90 percent of requests.

Scale and availability are one of the benefits of using a content delivery network. But speed is also another one. Even though the web is a digital platform, it’s very physical by nature. When you load a page on a server on the other side of the world, it’s going to take hundreds of milliseconds to get the page. Over time, this latency adds up and it feels like a sluggish experience.

Fastly has data centers and servers all around the world so that you can load content in less than 20 or 30 milliseconds. This is particularly important for Stripe or Ticketmaster as response time can greatly influence an e-commerce purchase.

Fastly’s platform also provides additional benefits, such as DDoS mitigation and web application firewall. One of the main challenges for the platform is being able to cache content as quickly as possible. Users upload photos and videos all the time, so it should be on Fastly’s servers within seconds.

The company has tripled its customer base over the past three years. It had a $100 million revenue run rate in 2017. Customers now include Reddit, GitHub, Stripe, Ticketmaster and Pinterest.

There are now 400 employees working for Fastly. It’s worth noting that women represent 42 percent of the executive team, and 65 percent of the engineering leads are women, people of color or LGBTQ (or the intersection of those categories). And if you haven’t read all the diversity reports from tech companies, those are great numbers.

Jul
13
2018
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Chad Rigetti to talk quantum computing at Disrupt SF

Even for the long-standing giants of the tech industry, quantum computing is one of the most complicated subjects to tackle. So how does a five-year old startup compete?

Chad Rigetti, the namesake founder of Rigetti Computing, will join us at Disrupt SF 2018 to help us break it all down.

Rigetti’s approach to quantum computing is two-fold: on one front, the company is working on the design and fabrication of its own quantum chips; on the other, the company is opening up access to its early quantum computers for researchers and developers by way of its cloud computing platform, Forest.

Rigetti Computing has raised nearly $70 million to date according to Crunchbase, with investment from some of the biggest names around. Meanwhile, labs around the country are already using Forest to explore the possibilities ahead.

What’s the current state of quantum computing? How do we separate hype from reality? Which fields might quantum computing impact first — and how can those interested in quantum technology make an impact? We’ll talk all this and more at Disrupt SF 2018.

Passes to Disrupt SF are available at the Early Bird rate until July 25 here.

Jul
13
2018
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Emptor looks to help companies more easily find contractors in the area

For any company looking to spin up some kind of operation in a new region, one of the first steps may be finding contractors in the area that can actually get the work started — but, especially as companies drift farther from cities, that can increasingly become a nightmare that’s quite familiar to Matt Velker.

That led to he and his co-founder Vignesh Venkataraman starting Emptor, a network to connect companies with local contractors in order to get those local projects off the ground effectively. That can range from actual construction to janitorial work or landscaping. A platform like Emptor seeks to take a lot of the ambiguity or guesswork out of finding a set of local companies to work with in order to get construction projects off the ground. It also adds a robust audit trail — ratings or otherwise — to ensure that the best contractors surface and that everyone knows which ones they should skip. The company is coming out of Y Combinator.

“Every time you’re building [projects in new regions you have to find an entirely new set of suppliers,” Velker said. “Often in rural areas when there isn’t a saturation of contractors like there is in a large metro, that discovery process within a reasonable time frame was the biggest challenge. Especially within the construction industry, there’s a huge deviation in terms of the quality of the companies you work with. We definitely had a lot of pains with unreliable contractors who weren’t getting the job done to spec or on time, or things that came close to fraud. It comes with the territory when you work with that volume of companies in a short period of time.”

Companies first go to Emptor and describe the projects they want and what kinds of pricing structure they are offering. Then, kind of like Thumbtack or other marketplaces, Emptor matches those projects with qualified contractors and then compares those bids in order to select the best offer. It aims to be a replacement for the time spent searching around Yelp or Google, where there may be listings and pages but not a high volume of ratings — or ones that are even accurate to begin. Even after the search, getting the whole process started can take weeks, another period Emptor hopes to shrink by streamlining that process.

Right now Emptor mainly focuses on facilities and maintenance, though should something like this take off it could add other elements of contract work that companies need. The approach also aims to be more granular, giving companies more ways to identify the needs of the project that might not necessarily just be quantitative. After all, better data about a company’s actual needs that flows into some algorithm can produce better matching, and that can also go down to the actual way compensation would work on that project.

“Having just one number for what a project will cost is convenient from the supplier and buyer perspective, but it’s missing out on the ability to build structured data that you can analyze,” Velker said. “The companies are deciding, ‘what do I need to know, how many years have you done in business.’ You want to be explicit about how are we going to make this decision. If price is a factor, how much of a factor is it, so they can spec things out and there’s transparency to the buyers.”

But while it’s an attempt to try to bridge that gap between the company and a service provider, it’s one that many companies have tried to fill before. There are tools like Angie’s List and others for finding contractors, though Velker says those are primarily geared toward consumers — and some end up bending the apps in order to fill the needs they have for contractors without some kind of formal platform to use. Velker acknowledges the theory behind all these tools is pretty similar, though he hopes Emptor will be able to tackle the specific needs companies might have that he’s experienced himself.

Jul
12
2018
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Google’s Apigee teams up with Informatica to extend its API ecosystem

Google acquired API management service Apigee back in 2016, but it’s been pretty quiet around the service in recent years. Today, however, Apigee announced a number of smaller updates that introduce a few new integrations with the Google Cloud platform, as well as a major new partnership with cloud data management and integration firm Informatica that essentially makes Informatica the preferred integration partner for Google Cloud.

Like most partnerships in this space, the deal with Informatica involves some co-selling and marketing agreements, but that really wouldn’t be all that interesting. What makes this deal stand out is that Google is actually baking some of Informatica’s tools right into the Google Cloud dashboard. This will allow Apigee users to use Informatica’s wide range of integrations with third-party enterprise applications while Informatica users will be able to publish their APIs through Apigee and have that service manage them for them.

Some of Google’s competitors, including Microsoft, have built their own integration services. As Google Cloud director of product management Ed Anuff told me, that wasn’t really on Google’s road map. “It takes a lot of know-how to build a rich catalog of connectors,” he said. “You could go and build an integration platform but if you don’t have that, you can’t address your customer’s needs.” Instead, Google went to look for a partner who already has this large catalog and plenty of credibility in the enterprise space.

Similarly, Informatica’s senior VP and GM for big data, cloud and data integration Ronen Schwartz noted that many of his company’s customers are now looking to move into the cloud and this move will make it easier for Informatica’s customers to bring their services into Apigee and open them up for external applications. “With this partnership, we are bringing the best of breed of both worlds to our customers,” he said. “And we are doing it now and we are making it available in an integrated, optimized way.”

Jul
12
2018
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Microsoft launches new wide-area networking options for Azure

Microsoft is launching a few new networking features today that will make it easier for businesses to use the company’s Azure cloud to securely connect their own offices and infrastructure using Azure and its global network.

The first of these is the Azure Virtual WAN service, which allows businesses to connect their various branches to and through Azure. This basically works like an airline hub and spoke model, where Azure becomes the central hub through which all data between branches flows. The advantage of this, Microsoft argues, is that it allows admins to manage their wide-area networks from a central dashboard and, of course, that it makes it easy to bind additional Azure services and appliances to the network. And with that, users also get access to all of the security services that Azure has to offer.

One new security service that Microsoft is launching today is the Azure Firewall, a new cloud-native security service that is meant to protect a business’s virtual network resources.

In addition to these two new networking features, Microsoft also today announced that it is expanding to two new regions its Azure Data Box service, which is basically Microsoft’s version of the AWS Snowball appliances for moving data into the cloud by loading it onto a shippable appliance: Europe and the United Kingdom (and let’s not argue about the fact that the U.K. is still part of Europe). There is also now a “Data Box Disk” option for those who don’t need to move petabytes of data. Orders with up to five of those disks can hold up to 40 terabytes of data and are currently in preview.

Jul
12
2018
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Microsoft wants to make you a better team player by nudging you into submission

Microsoft announced a number of new tools for its MyAnalytics tool for Office 365 users today that are geared toward giving employees more data about how they work, as well as ways to improve how teams work together. In today’s businesses, everybody has to be a team player, after all, and if you want to bring technology to bear on this, you first need data — and once you have data, you can go into full-on analytics mode and maybe even throw in a smidge of machine learning, too.

So today, Microsoft is launching two new products: Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics nudges. Yes, Office 365 will now nudge you to be a better team player. “Building better teams starts with transparent, data-driven dialog—but no one is perfect and sticking to good collaboration habits can be challenging in a fast-paced job,” Microsoft’s Natalie McCullough and Noelle Beaujon, using language only an MBA could love, write in today’s announcement.

I’m not sure what exactly that means or whether I have good collaboration habits or not, but in practice, Office 365 can now nudge you when you need more focus time as your calendar fills up, for example. You can block off those times without leaving your Inbox (or, I guess, you could always ignore this and just set up a standing block of time every day where you don’t accept meetings and just do your job…). MyAnalytics can also now nudge you to delegate meetings to a co-worker when your schedule is busy (because your co-workers aren’t busy and will love you for putting more meetings on your calendar) and tell you to avoid after-hours emails as you draft them to co-workers so they don’t have to work after hours, too (that’s actually smart, but may not work well in every company).

With this new feature, Microsoft is also using some machine learning smarts, of course. MyAnalytics was already able to remind you of tasks you promised to co-workers over email, and now it’ll nudge you when you read new emails from those co-workers, too. Because the more you get nudged, the more likely you are to finish that annoying task you never intended to do but promised your co-worker you would do so he’d go away.

If you’re whole team needs some nudging, Microsoft will also allow the group to enroll in a change program and provide you with lots of data about how you are changing. And if that doesn’t work, you can always set up a few meetings to discuss what’s going wrong.

These new features will roll out this summer. Get ready to be nudged.

Jul
12
2018
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Microsoft Teams gets a free version

Microsoft opened up the news floodgates this morning, in the kick off to its annual Inspire event in Vegas. One of the more compelling announcements of the bunch is the addition of a free version of Teams.

The Slack competitor has been kicking around in some form or other since late-2016, but the $60 a year fee has likely made it a bit of a nonstarter for smaller businesses. After all, it’s Slack’s free tier that helped the work chat app gain so much traction so quickly. A free version makes a lot of sense for Microsoft.

Signing users up for Teams is way to get more feet into the door of its application ecosystem, which was once ubiquitous in offices. Once they’ve download teams, workplaces will be hooked into the Microsoft 365 suite.

The free tier actually brings a fair bit of the app to up to 300 people per workplace. Here’s the full rundown of features per Microsoft,

  • Unlimited chat messages and search.
  • Built-in audio and video calling for individuals, groups, and full team meetups.
  • 10 GB of team file storage plus additional 2 GB per person for personal storage.
  • Integrated, real-time content creation with Office Online apps, including built-in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
  • Unlimited app integrations with 140+ business apps to choose from—including Adobe, Evernote, and Trello.
  • Ability to communicate and collaborate with anyone inside or outside your organization, backed by Microsoft’s secure, global infrastructure.

The company’s done a good job hooking in enterprise customers, but as it notes, SMBs constitute 90+ percent of businesses globally, so that’s a whole lot more devices to tap into. The free tier is available in 40 languages starting today.

Jul
12
2018
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GitHub Enterprise and Business Cloud users now get access to public repos, too

GitHub, the code hosting service Microsoft recently acquired, is launching a couple of new features for its business users today that’ll make it easier for them to access public repositories on the service.

Traditionally, users on the hosted Business Cloud and self-hosted Enterprise were not able to directly access the millions of public open-source repositories on the service. Now, with the service’s release, that’s changing, and business users will be able to reach beyond their firewalls to engage and collaborate with the rest of the GitHub community directly.

With this, GitHub now also offers its business and enterprise users a new unified search feature that lets them tap into their internal repos but also look at open-source ones.

Other new features in this latest Enterprise release include the ability to ignore whitespace when reviewing changes, the ability to require multiple reviewers for code changes, automated support tickets and more. You can find a full list of all updates here.

Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub wasn’t fully unexpected (and it’s worth noting that the acquisition hasn’t closed yet), but it is still controversial, given that Microsoft and the open-source community, which heavily relies on GitHub, haven’t always seen eye-to-eye in the past. I’m personally not too worried about that, and it feels like the dust has settled at this point and that people are waiting to see what Microsoft will do with the service.

Jul
12
2018
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Datadog launches Watchdog to help you monitor your cloud apps

Your typical cloud monitoring service integrates with dozens of service and provides you a pretty dashboard and some automation to help you keep tabs on how your applications are doing. Datadog has long done that but today, it is adding a new service called Watchdog, which uses machine learning to automatically detect anomalies for you.

The company notes that a traditional monitoring setup involves defining your parameters based on how you expect the application to behave and then set up dashboards and alerts to monitor them. Given the complexity of modern cloud applications, that approach has its limits, so an additional layer of automation becomes necessary.

That’s where Watchdog comes in. The service observes all of the performance data it can get its paws on, learns what’s normal, and then provides alerts when something unusual happens and — ideally — provides insights into where exactly the issue started.

“Watchdog builds upon our years of research and training of algorithms on our customers data sets. This technology is unique in that it not only identifies an issue programmatically, but also points users to probable root causes to kick off an investigation,” Datadog’s head of data science Homin Lee notes in today’s announcement.

The service is now available to all Datadog customers in its Enterprise APM plan.

Jul
12
2018
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Spring Health raises $6M to help employees get access to personalized mental health treatment

In recent months, we’ve seen more and more funding flowing into tools for mental wellness — whether that’s AI-driven tools to help patients find help to meditation apps — and it seems like that trend is starting to pick up even more steam as smaller companies are grabbing the attention of investors.

There’s another one picking up funding today in Spring Health, a platform for smaller companies to help their employees get more access to mental health treatment. The startup looks to give employers get access to a simple, effective way to start offering that treatment for their employees in the form of personalized mental wellness plans. The employees get access to confidential plans in addition to access to a network and ways to get in touch with a therapist or psychiatrist as quickly as possible. The company said it has raised an additional $6 million in funding led by Rethink Impact, with Work-Bench, BBG Ventures, and The Partnership Fund for New York City joining the round. RRE Ventures and the William K. Warren Foundation also participated.

“…I realized that mental health care is largely a guessing game: you use trial-and-error to find a compatible therapist, and you use trial-and-error to find the right treatment regimen, whether that’s a specific cocktail of medications or a specific type of psychotherapy,” CEO and co-founder April Koh said. “Everything around us is personalized these days – like shopping on Amazon, search results on Google, and restaurant recommendations on Yelp – but you can’t get personalized recommendations for your mental health care. I wanted to build a platform that connects you with the right care for you from the very beginning. So I partnered with leading expert on personalized psychiatry, Dr. Adam Chekroud our Chief Scientist, and my friend Abhishek Chandra, our CTO, to start Spring Health.”

The startup bills itself as an online mental health clinic that offers recommendations for employees, such as treatment options or tweaks to their daily routines (like exercise regimens). Like other machine learning-driven platforms, Spring Health puts a questionnaire in front of the end employee that adapts to the responses they are giving and then generates a wellness plan for that specific individual. As more and more patients get on the service, it gets more data, and can improve those recommendations over time. Those patients are then matched with clinicians and licensed medical health professionals from the company’s network.

“We found that employers were asking for it,” Koh said. “As a company we started off by selling an AI-enabled clinical decision support tool to health systems to empower their doctors to make data-driven decisions. While selling that tool to one big health system, word reached their benefits department, and they reached out to us and told us they need something in benefits to deal with mental health needs of their employee base. When that happened, we decided to completely focus on selling a “full-stack” mental health solution to employers for their employees. Instead of selling a tool to doctors, we decided we would create our own network of best-in-class mental health providers who would use our tools to deliver the best mental health care possible.”

However, Spring Health isn’t the only startup looking to create an intelligent matching system for employees seeking mental health. Lyra Health, another tool to help employees securely and confidentially begin the process of getting mental health treatment, raised $45 million in May this year. But Spring Health and Lyra Health are both part of a wave of startups looking to create ways for employees to more efficiently seek care powered by machine learning and capitalizing on the cost and difficulty of those tools dropping dramatically.

And it’s not the only service in the mental wellness category also picking up traction, with meditation app Calm raising $27 million at a $250 million valuation. Employers naturally have a stake in the health of their employees, and as all these apps look to make getting mental health treatment or improving mental wellness easier — and less of a taboo — the hope is they’ll continue to lower the barrier to entry, both from the actual product inertia and getting people comfortable with seeking help in the first place.

“I think VC’s are realizing there’s a huge opportunity to disrupt mental health care and make it accessible, convenient and affordable. But from our perspective, the problem with the space is that there is a lot of unvetted, non-evidence-based technology. There’s a ton of vaporware surrounding AI, big data, and machine-learning, especially in mental health care. We want to set a higher standard in mental healthcare that is based on evidence and clinical validation. Unlike most mental health care solutions on the market, we have multiple peer-reviewed publications in top medical journals like JAMA, describing and substantiating our technology. We know that our personalized recommendations and our Care Navigation approach are evidence-based and proven to work.

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